Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, is a subcategory of depression that consists of depression-like symptoms, which tend to occur during certain seasons. SAD is thought to be caused by a combination of decreased light in the winter months and our body’s natural reduction in serotonin levels during colder times of the year. Even though we can’t control these elements that may cause SAD, we can do some things to help lessen the impact. These are strategies to help reduce the effects of SAD:
1. Find ways to increase your serotonin levels.
- Exercise. Doing aerobic exercises regularly has been shown to be an effective way to boost your serotonin. It can be hard to motivate yourself to exercise if you experience SAD, but once you get going, chances are you’ll be glad you did.
- Sleep. It’s tempting to sleep more in the winter months due to the weather and our tendency to be less active in winter. Maintaining a healthy sleep schedule can boost your well-being. This includes pushing past the urge to take long naps during the day. Start by working on getting into a routine of falling asleep and waking up at similar times to give yourself the necessary amount of time to rest.
2. Try to access as much light as possible.
- The further north a population lives (and thus, the fewer hours of daylight during winter it gets) the more that SAD tends to impact that population on average. Regardless of where you live, make sure you make the most of the daylight you have. Take walks during the sunny hours of the day even if it means waking up a bit earlier to catch those rays. Experts recommend at least 30 minutes of walking in the sun a day to help with SAD.
- Since the winter months have less light, you might have to be proactive about making time to catch the sun. Check the weather ahead of time and schedule time to get outside when the sun is out. Find ways that your normal indoor activities can be adapted to allow you time outside. Exercising outside is helpful for mood generally, and other activities like reading, meal prepping, working, and even watching Netflix can be done outside with a few adjustments. Sit outside for your next Ginger coaching session!
3. Spend time reflecting on the current season and the season ahead.
- If you experience SAD in winter, reflect on some things that you like about winter. It can be useful to plan certain activities that you only do during this season. Perhaps it is snow-related activities like building a snowman or going skiing, or maybe it is the feeling of curling up under a warm blanket. When we have a list of winter activities we like, we’re better able to recognize the good things about winter, and it gives us something to look forward to.
- Sometimes the dead of winter feels never-ending, but we know it eventually ends and the beauty of spring follows. Look forward and think about the things you are excited about in the coming season.
If you find that these strategies aren’t effective in minimizing SAD, talk to your doctor about other strategies or possible medication options. Reach out to your coach who can help you tailor a sleep routine that fits with your life.